Representing Cities We Love: Spearfish

For the month of July, we have focused our articles on topics related to the Black Hills, including highlights from the Design in the Hills conference. Though it is important to celebrate the work of our fellow designers in these cities, it is also important to celebrate and learn about the communites in which these projects are built! As one of the communities that served as the location for the Design in the Hills conference this year, we reached out to Jayna Watson, the City Planner for the City of Spearfish, to tell us more about Spearfish, South Dakota.

This is How We [stay on a] Roll

By Jayna Watson, City Planner, Spearfish SD

Spearfish has experienced growth and renewal on many levels.  Spurred by multi-million dollar investments by the City of Spearfish and private enterprise, the identity and long term vitality of the community is secure.  These projects did not happen overnight, and without their share of critics.  The formula for ensuring long term community vitality is an artful dance between knowing what to protect and having the courage to make changes when a shift in direction is needed.  The following are just a few examples of changes that have made their mark on the history of the community in the last several years. 

Public Investments

Jackson Boulevard

Born from the need to address declining street and utility infrastructure, in 2017, the City of Spearfish started an ambitious project to upgrade and beautify its primary east/west arterial and entry into the city, Jackson Boulevard.  The primary goals for the project were to upgrade the essential infrastructure, improve pedestrian safety, reduce traffic speeds, beautify the corridor, and implement bicycle lanes.  In February 2017, public design sessions were filled with lively talk about the new character the street would take on including Spearfish’s first ever (hold your breath) round-about.  From these sessions, the design team had their marching orders, and the 4 lane street was to be converted to a 2 lane street with an enhanced landscape median.  Fast forward to December 2017 when a packed house of concerned citizens requested that the city scrap the proposal to reduce the street from 4 lanes to 2 lanes.  The City Council re-directed the design to remain at 4 lanes but surviving the design changes were the landscaped medians, the bike lines, and the roundabout.  Completion of the project is slated for the fall 2021 for the $9 million upgrade to this important roadway.

Jackson Boulevard – Google Maps October 2018
Jackson Boulevard – July 2021. Photo Credit: Jayna Watson

Affordable Housing

For years, work force housing has been a key topic in many economic development discussions.  The script was a familiar one: Organize a meeting.  Discuss the issue.  Identify some follow up steps.  Then, do nothing.  The City of Spearfish recently did SOMETHING.  That something is Sky Ridge.  In February of 2020, the city partnered with a home builder, Dream Design International, (DDI) to construct 150 homes with 80 percent of them costing less than $300,000, on a parcel of land purchased by the city several months prior. Under the agreement, the city will provide completed streets and utilities, and the first 62 lots will soon be ready for home construction by DDI in the fall of 2021.  A tax increment finance district was formed that will direct the new property tax revenues back to the city for its initial investment of the infrastructure.  A new $9.7 million dollar sports complex will be constructed and financed by the city to serve as both an amenity for Sky Ridge residents as well as to host major tournament play.  Public reaction to the project has been positive, and a waiting list for the new homes grows by the day. 

Private Development Initiatives

Main Street Redevelopment

Spearfish Main Street continues to be a thriving place to stroll and enjoy all that it has to offer.  Inspired by the desire to retain a classic Main Street experience, many downtown business owners have invested in façade and building upgrades or have brought a creative business model to the downtown.  In the same hour, a person could buy a can of paint, a designer label men’s dress shirt, organically raised food, and a dish of avocado ice cream.  Anchoring Main Street at the southwest corner of  Jackson Boulevard is a mixed use property completed in 2017 that contains a micro-brewery, restaurant, and retail on the ground floor and offices on the second.  This project was a dramatic change architecturally and socially to downtown.  The previous use was a one story covered parking lot attached to small office suites and a carry out pizza service.  Thanks to the careful attention of building massing, scale of building features, material choice, and outdoor seating spaces, the change from the single to the two story building has been transformative.  What was once a blighted space now hosts residents and visitors enjoying lunch or a cold brew at one of the outdoor tables which are full all summer long.  This bustling corner is a gateway to the rest of the downtown that invites exploration of what lies further down the street.

Main/Jackson – Google Maps July 2009
Main/ Jackson – July 2021. Photo Credit: Jayna Watson

Spearfish Creek as a Business Amenity

Commercial land uses adjacent to Spearfish Creek are limited and until recently, no owners have capitalized on the asset of creek front property.  Completed in 2018, the Villages at Creekside provides a spectacular view of the creek and the surrounding park.  This mixed use development is home to one restaurant, micro-brewery/pizza restaurant, coffee and wine bar, salon, and more new tenants are in the works.  A massive common patio overlooks the creek and connects each of the businesses.  This patio space allows customers to enjoy their favorite food and drinks from other shops without any limits to service territory.  In the summertime, music acts set up along the creek bank and people bring their blankets and enjoy the tunes as the sun sets behind Crow Peak in the distance.  Because the property was formerly a small ranch, the building architecture reflects this heritage with one of the restaurants’ outdoor dining spaces dubbed the Corn Crib due to its lattice structure covering the space.  Exposed weathered timbers and field stone set against white-washed board and batten gives a respectful nod to the site’s history and to what remains of the farming culture of the surrounding Spearfish valley.

Conclusion

There are many more hands at work in Spearfish doing great things that bring the community joy and connection than what can be covered by this article.  The pioneering spirit that started in the 1800’s thrives in Spearfish today with new risk-takers stepping up to try something not yet done before.  It’s not always perfect, but this is how we stay on a roll.

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